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How to Hire Motivated Employees

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“Hiring motivated employees”
Food Service Director

Low wages + demanding job = high turnover. It’s easy to see how keeping a busy kitchen fully staffed and motivated could be a task.

Unfortunately, more and more workplaces look like busy understaffed kitchens these days. I mean, you really have to be motivated to work there! So, what’s a manger to do?

Until just a few months ago, I was feeling this Food Service Director’s pain every day. Axero had been fortunate enough to have talented and motivated people take care of all our vital business functions, except one: sales.

A big one, right? I was pretty motivated myself to find someone to take the worry of meeting our sales goals off my shoulders. I was thinking all the thoughts that business owners think when they are looking for salespeople. I was thinking that we had a competitive product with a proven track record in a growing market. That we were a healthy company and a great team to work with. Just what an experienced person needed to make himself and the rest of us fabulously rich.

I went out there to interview candidates feeling pretty good about what I had to offer. I met a truckload of suits and resumes. One thing patently missing from the scene was motivation to sell my software.

For one, why were they all asking for a big salary, when they could practically name their own commission? Didn’t they just promise to triple my sales in a year? I was willing to pay for anything necessary to make that happen—travel, expenses, health, 401(k)… I would even throw in a dry-cleaning allowance for the suits and the ties.

No deal.

Finally, I settled on “Ethan.” Ethan’s salary requirements were modest compared to the rest. And besides, he was such a charming, thoughtful, sincere, and thoroughly likable guy, that I decided that he was worth the risk.

Pretty soon I was questioning Ethan’s motivation too. The guy spent far more time convincing us to change our software than he did convincing the buyers to buy it. It was always, “add this feature, tweak that layout—and I would get you a sale.” And we believed him. The first five times.

With Ethan gone, I did the only thing left for me to do. I hired myself. Why pay someone who is not even as good as me? If nothing else, I was definitely motivated to take the job and do it right.

Hiring myself to do sales proved to be a stroke of genius. I recommend it to all managers who are struggling to find motivated employees. Do the job yourself, at least for a day. You might discover something.

The first thing I discovered was that we had too many leads coming in. Many of them junk. Ethan was wasting his time chasing after the wrong buyers. The supposed flaws of our software must have been excuses they gave him to get off his follow up list. When I took over sales, I put in a process to qualify the leads, and none of Ethan’s complaints ever came up.

Why didn’t an experienced sales guy think of something as basic as qualifying the leads? Upon a closer look, it appeared that Ethan had the wrong experience. His previous employer was the only solution provider in its space. There were not many window shoppers, and Ethan’s approach worked.

Fine, there’s something to learn on every job. How could I have known that Ethan would never adjust to selling in a competitive market?

This goes back to something I wrote in Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?, Chapter 2, Hire Traits and Behaviors. People can always learn on the job, provided they want to learn. It turned out that Ethan was a bit of a know-it-all. More importantly, I think, he lacked the self-confidence to “go for the no,” and zero in on the likely buyer.

Even with qualified buyers, Ethan was often unable to close. Sales trainers use the term FUD: fear, uncertainty, doubt. Rather than taking it personally, a good salesman helps the buyer overcome these common barriers to making a decision. Although he was motivated, Ethan failed at his job. He simply didn’t have what the buyers needed from him. Underneath his charming façade, Ethan was all fear, uncertainty, doubt.

Managers rely on motivated employees to get the work done. Motivation is a function of many variables. When it seems that there aren’t any good people willing to do the job, try one of the following:

  1. Change the job. As I’ve learned from being my own sales guy, I was asking of sales something that should have been done through automated marketing. Namely, qualifying the leads. Now that the sales process is well defined, others can step in and be productive.
  2. Change your hiring practices. Lack of motivation could really be lack of fit. Looking back, I wouldn’t have hired Ethan, even after I’ve bullet-proofed my sales tactics. Any future Axero salesperson will need to demonstrate a proficiency with FUD. Smell it coming. Communicate value to the buyer. Move on from your own setbacks.
  3. Change your management style. Here, a lot of people would talk about micromanagement. How it’s so bad to suffocate people around you. What I’ve learned from doing sales is that I wasn’t micromanaging enough. I left Ethan to create his own sales process, and it failed. He wasn’t creating anything. He was simply doing what he had done in the past, and it didn’t work for our buyers. I suspect that in many cases where employees routinely fail, putting the right structure in place would help them succeed.

In the end, motivation was not a factor in my case. But all three items above were. In general, I believe that all new hires come in motivated to succeed. Think back to your own first day on any job. Were you not looking forward to it even a little bit?

What happened next? When did that hope fizzle out? Since I’ve started The Biggest Challenge at Work, many new hires have written to say that they’re struggling to keep themselves motivated. As a manager, what can you do to help them? Let’s give it some thought in the next post.


If you hire people, you might like my book, because it’s better to get it right the first time.

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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